Saturday, June 22, 2013

Preying mantis (No, that's not a typo. Do you know what these guys eat?)

“A hatchling, that is what you are. 
A hatchling struggling into the world.” 

-- Christopher Paolini, Eragon

Praying mantis on Leo's thumb 6-22-13
The Praying Mantis

From whence arrived the praying mantis?
From outer space, or lost Atlantis?
glimpse the grin, green metal mug
at masks the pseudo-saintly bug,
Orthopterous, also carnivorous,
And faintly whisper, Lord deliver us.
-- Ogden Nash

"Think how a praying mantis is invisible on a leaf, 
how they are carnivores who will devour their own species. 
The female will even eat her own partner once they've mated and, 
as hatchlings, their first meal is often one of their own siblings.”

-- Jane Prowse, The Revenge of Praying Mantis

Nature delivered another unexpected face when this teeny, tiny praying mantis hatchling showed up on our patio table.

His brothers and sisters must be around somewhere, because there are typically 100 to 400 baby mantises that hatch out of each egg case -- all at once.

This mantis is a newborn, weightless, wingless, fragile, about an inch long, legs as fine as filaments. He looks pretty harmless, but don't let his tiny size fool you. These guys are hardcore carnivores. They start on small stuff ... aphids, etc., and a baby will eat anything its own size or smaller, including its own nest-mates. (Words I've never had to say to my kids: "Stop eating your brother or you are definitely getting a time out, Mister!")

Before long a praying mantis will eat pretty much any insect, no matter how big, if they can get the advantage. Mantises are masters of camouflage and will wait, quietly, for hours at a time, and then ambush any insect unlucky enough to wander by. Like many bloodthirsty predators, a mantis always goes for the neck.

A mantis will molt several times over its one-year life span, shedding its tender outer shell for a stronger, sturdier exoskeleton. It will also grow wings.

My son, Leo, found this little dude. I couldn't help but notice their kinship. Leo is also a hardcore carnivore (I routinely watch him lay waste to entire platters of meat in mere minutes.) Leo is also a keen hunter -- a very good shot. In fact, ironically, just after I shot this picture, for dinner we ate a wild turkey that Leo hunted this spring. From what he's told me about turkey hunting, it involves camouflage and a lot of waiting, quietly, for hours at a time. Sounds familiar.

Leo started hunting small stuff ... squirrels, etc. But he's worked his way up to bigger game: goose, turkey. No deer yet, but he'll get there. He wants to hunt wild boar in Texas. I have no doubt that he will. (Note to self: Google recipes for wild boar.)

Leo is 15, and like the mantis, keeps growing, and growing, and growing. My 7 lb. 14 ounce newborn is now 6' 1" and 180 pounds, with size 13 shoes. He doesn't molt, but I swear if you listen closely in the quiet of the night, you can hear his skin squeaking and stretching to accommodate his fast-growing, muscle-hardened body.

I like it that a praying mantis hatchling develops both legs and wings with which to explore, navigate and survive in the world. He will be able fly one day, but he can still stay firmly grounded. What more could I ask for either of my sons?  

I hope some of these hatchlings stick around and that we are lucky enough to catch glimpses of them (and photos of them) as they grow and develop into adulthood. I planted a garden this year, so I definitely want their help keeping the bugs off my broccoli. 

The way I see it, why use toxic chemicals when you can get pest control with a face?